(Go here to see our previous episode or here to go to the first chapter of this novel that none other than the noted columnist J.J. Hunsecker has called, “a searing indictment of the more than murky mores of Tinseltown”.)
Somewhere along the way it had become cool to live in houses or apartments that didn’t look like houses or apartments, but looked like or formerly were garages or sweatshops or greenhouses or prisons. The Mariner’s house was like a big barn on wooden pilings. By the time Buddy and Joan got there the joint was already crowded with people talking loud and fast, waving their hands around and letting out shrieks and guffaws. Some sort of Middle-Eastern or maybe North African music was playing on a stereo. Two old gay guys immediately rushed up to Joan and began kissing and hugging her, and Buddy backed up against something hard, which seemed to be a medieval apparatus for gouging people’s eyes out. (Okay, it was a bottle-corking machine.) A rusty harpoon was mounted on the wall behind, pointing to a framed photograph of Dylan Thomas, and below Dylan on a rough wooden table stood a flickering old oil lamp, giving off a smell like smoldering compost.
Suddenly Joan introduced Buddy to the two old flamers (whose names went right through his ears without stopping) and they were telling him how wonderful Joan was and how lucky he was when the Ancient Mariner himself, still in his stage make-up, shoved his way through the flamers and shouted Joan’s name as if she was a block away and in the path of a speeding fire truck; the old boys folded their hands and shut up and smiled like good courtiers as the Mariner kissed Joan on both cheeks and then turned to Buddy with one eyebrow cocked.
“I see you were admiring my lamp.”
“I love that piece. 19th Century -- from Bretagne.”
“No kidding,” said Buddy.
“From Brittany,” said the Mariner, thus letting it be known that he could understand his own French.
He went on about the stinky lamp and some other shit, and yes, he spoke with a slight English accent, kind of like a British actor doing a bad American accent. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, but he did say how he had been so looking forward to meeting Buddy, and he echoed the old dudes’ sentiments about Joan and how tremendously lucky Buddy was. Who tuned him out, smiling modestly and nodding in three-quarter profile while shooting glances at the other guests. He was hoping to see the French actress babe but it seemed she had a bit more sense than anyone else here since she wasn’t here. And come to think of it she hadn’t come out for the curtain call. Well, good for her.
The Mariner jabbered on, and Buddy longed for a drink. His trained eye noticed a buffet table at the opposite side of the room and, yes, so near and yet so far, there were large bottles on the table which with any luck had alcoholic beverages in them. A dark-haired chick in an Emily Brontë-on-granola dress stood behind the table. Even from this distance she looked depressed, which endeared her to Buddy.
“Oh, do help yourself to the groaning board, Buddy,” said the Mariner. “I made it all myself. Well, with a little help from Cordelia.”
Buddy assumed that Cordelia was the girl in sackcloth and ashes at the food table. He could only assume because the Mariner gave no further explication. She seemed way too young to be his wife, so maybe she was his daughter, which would explain her depression.
“Or perhaps,” leered the Mariner, “I may fetch you a modest libation first.”
Now the old salt was talking.
“Sure,” said Buddy, “I’ll even take an immodest one.”
“Ah, un verre de vin de pays?”
“Blanc ou rouge?”
“White’s cool,” you asshole.
“Et pour madame?” said the Mariner, batting his mascara’d lashes at Joan. “Blanc ou rouge?”
“Blonkooroozh?” asked Joan, in her best Nebraskan accent.
“Uh, yes, white or red.”
“Uh, white blonkooroozh for me, Stephen.”
And without betraying the merest hint of supercilious amusement, and thus suggesting to Buddy that he might not after all be a complete failure as an actor, the Ancient Mariner turned and heaved off through the crowd to the food-and-drinks table.
After a very quick tumblerful of not-cold blonk, Buddy wanted another one, so he told the Mariner he’d like to check out the food, and before the Mariner could offer to accompany him Buddy slipped off to the buffet. He said hello to the just-got-out-of-shock-treatment chick and she stared at him in what looked like apprehension or astonishment.
“Hey, could I have some more of that white?” asked Buddy. He helped her out by pointing to the 1.5 liter of Chantefleur Chardonnay.
“Oh!” And she took the bottle in both hands and filled his authentic nubbly peasant glass to the brim.
“Thanks,” said Buddy. “Cheers.”
He had to bend over and lift the glass very slowly to his lips to keep the wine from spilling. It was not good as well as not cold, but it was wine, which meant it had alcohol in it, which was very good. The girl was looking at him as if she were about to say something, and Buddy smiled politely. But instead of speaking she unscrewed the cap from a two-liter plastic bottle of Diet Coke, took the bottle in both hands and filled up another one of those sturdy glasses, to the brim. She recapped the bottle, picked up the glass, again with both hands, drank deeply, sighed, and then stared down toward the floor.
“What you need is some rum in that,” said Buddy.
She looked at him. She seemed oddly familiar. Or maybe just odd.
“Really?” she said.
“It might help.”
She gnawed her upper lip for a few seconds, and then said, “Do I look like I need help?”
“You look like you could use a real drink.”
“We don’t have any rum,” she said. “All we have is wine.”
Her voice had a weird gurgly quality. Maybe she wasn’t psycho and she just had a cold.
“Wine’ll do,” said Buddy.
She closed her lips and looked away again.
She smacked herself upside the head.
“I forgot the shoe!”
“The, uh, shoe?”
Or, maybe she was psycho.
“Not shoe-shoe. French chou. For cabbage. Choux au fromage!”
“Ah. Cabbage with -- cheese?”
That sounded not-good but expectable.
“No! Fucking cheese puffs! I have to take them out of the oven!”
And she swirled away offstage in that recycled flour sack she had on.
Okay, bring on the cheese shoes; Buddy started picking, and, big surprise: the food sucked. But he lingered by the table anyway, which seemed to be made out of a length of old boardwalk, because this was better than going back to that little crab-nebula of boringness that was Joan and the Mariner and his Two Stooges. Little lost shoe-girl stayed backstage, and on the stereo now it was Jacques Brel or some other frog singing “The Impossible Dream”, in French, which didn’t make the song suck any less than it did in English...
(Continued here, unless our ratings plunge precipitately. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. “I eagerly await each new episode, my breath firmly bated.” -- Harold Bloom.)